Thanksgiving Things

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!  I hope you’re happily prepping for the holiday whether that means confirming your reservations at a favorite restaurant or harvesting persimmons to make Aunt Nell’s favorite pudding. Around here we’re baking pies.  Well, truthfully, we’re watching my mom bake pies.  Because that’s the kind of helpful children and grandchildren we are.

Actually, I was photographing and watching, trying to figure out how she so effortlessly assembles the crust and then rolls it out with nary a tear (tare) or a tear (teer.)

I always bring the pies to Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Pauline’s and I estimate it took making about a hundred pies before I actually achieved anything close to my mother’s perfect and painless pie crusts.

She makes it look so easy.  Glad you could share this Thanksgiving with us, Mom–and not just for the pies. I’m also looking forward to your creamed onions.

While your pie crusts are chilling, here are a few Thanksgiving things to consider:

Aspirational Thanksgiving recipes by state.

What we actually cook for Thanksgiving by state. (Frog-eye salad, Idaho?)

Strategies for Thanksgiving dinner table conversation.

Anne Lamott on saying grace.

A grateful shout out to Mother Earth.

Nice to learn that we grow more grateful as we age.

Happy Thanksgiving All!


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Thoroughly Modern Amish Quilts

Amish quilts had a heyday in the ’80s and ’90s.  Their bold colors and graphic patterns worked well with contemporary interiors and evoked the rural Amish lifestyle that was portrayed so appealingly in Peter Weir’s thriller “Witness” and  Sue Bender’s bestseller “Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish.”  In an age of increased technological complexity, simplicity sold.

Though Amish quilts are used less frequently in today’s home decor, any time they’re exhibited they tend to draw a crowd.  If you live in the Bay Area you’ll find some excellent examples at Antique Ohio Amish Quilts from the Darwin D. Bearley Collection, a new exhibit opening this weekend at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.  A companion exhibit of  twenty modern quilts from three Bay Area modern quilt guilds (including the quilts shown here) shows the continuing appeal of hand-sewn simplicity.

You can read more about the exhibits here in my BANG article, but I wanted to share two other things that San Francisco-based quilt expert Joe Cunningham had to say when I interviewed him for the story. First, he pointed out that the modern quilter’s aesthetic is not only inspired by the past but also developed in reaction to it.  “Young quilters don’t want to shop at their moms’ favorite fabric shops or join their mothers’ quilt guilds,” said Cunningham. “And they really don’t want to make their mothers’ quilts.”

I can imagine their mothers’ quilts—elaborate constructions made possible through improved cutting tools and exposure to a wide range of techniques demonstrated in quilting publications, workshops, and fabric stores. Some of those women made spare Amish-like quilts, but most tackled complex patterns with an incredible variety of fabrics. Then they appliqued and embellished the layers of fabric and batting to within a 1/4 inch of their mitered borders. More was more.

So it’s no surprise that in order to create something that they can call their own, a new generation of quiltmakers has embraced a more spare, Amish-like, style of quiltmaking.

The young quilters I interviewed told me that they’re busier than their mothers—working full time while raising kids–and not able to devote as much time to their craft. I hear what they’re saying, but I also think that women have always been busy.  Certainly 19th century quilters had plenty to do but still managed to produce intricately pieced quilts covered with exquisite hand-quilted stitches. So I’d propose that we all seem to move more quickly through our obsessions nowdays. None of us are spending hours, weeks and months working on a single craft or art project any more.  Simpler quilts mean quicker turn around times which is in keeping with the pace of our modern lives.

The other point Cunningham made is that women have always made quilts not because it’s the most efficient way to cover a bed, but because it’s one of the loveliest.  “You could make warm bed coverings by simply tying whole layers of fabric together without going to the trouble of piecing fabric scraps into artistic patterns and then covering them with hand stitching,” says Cunningham.  “Historically quilts were works of art that allowed women to get together and make gifts for the people they loved. That hasn’t changed.”

Modern quilters may purchase materials, learn techniques and share their art online, but my guess is that they’re still motivated to quilt because they want to make something beautiful–and warm–for real live people.

 “Antique Ohio Amish Quilts: The Darwin D. Bearley Collection” and “Amish: The Modern Muse” open Saturday, November 15 at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. 


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Friday Things: The Thank You Edition

On this first Friday in November I’m thinking about gratitude.  Throughout the year I try to count my blessings—sometimes in a daily “gratitude journal”  but more often than not by documenting the (mostly) good and interesting things in my life on Instagram. (Thank you, Insta!)

In case you haven’t tracked this yet, Thanksgiving comes late this year–November 27– which means there are plenty of days left to start or up your gratitude practice.

For me, I’ve decided to do more than just recognize gratitude this month, I’m trying to put my grateful feelings into action by saying Thank You to the people who bring the good and interesting into my life.  I’m doing it through short email messages, hand written notes and by saying Thank You (with gusto!)  at least once every day in November to the people who make my life better. That includes you, dear readers.   Thank you for reading and for letting me know you’re reading. I’m lucky to have you in my life.

Some other (mostly practical) things I’m grateful for this week:

Arguments for retiring Daylight Savings Time.

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, a simple table setting featuring random candles and wrinkled linens.  (What, you think the pilgrims had no-wrinkle options?)

How to make a killer grilled cheese sandwich.

Everyday objects as art subjects.

Six stretches to do at your desk.

What your zip code says about you–well, really, your neighbors.

Grammar tips worth repeating.

And now for something a little more glam. . .the Divine Miss M. covers TLC’s Waterfalls.



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Field Trip: Minted

It’s always fun to take a peek behind the scenes, don’t you think?  Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the San Francisco headquarters for the online stationary company Minted.  You may remember that I’ve touted Minted’s high-quality papers and sophisticated designs before.  No surprise, their offices were just as aesthetically pleasing as their products.

I’d been invited to participate in a focus group discussing Minted’s art prints.  The other women gathered in the conference room were mostly in their 20s and 30s.  We were interviewed about our art buying habits by the company’s founder, Mariam Naficy, while she and several other employees took notes.

I came away with a greater sense of Minted’s mission and what younger consumers are interested in.  There was certainly some overlap in our interests — we all favored limited edition pieces, wanted tools that would help with art placement and shared a propensity for late-night shopping.

Where we differed, I think, was in our acquisitional aspirations.  The younger members of the panel were all about feathering their burgeoning nests. I have plenty of art that’s sitting boxed up in my garage with nowhere to go now that we’ve downsized and modernized. Where the younger women are anxious to fill their blank walls, I’m angling for more negative space.

Nevertheless, I may find myself buying one small Minted piece.  I liked some of the foil-pressed samples Naficy (who, by the way, couldn’t have been more gracious) showed us before we left.  The glittering Golden State map of California just released today was especially enticing.  For about $40 framed, it seems like a good deal and a good fit for my home–not too big, speaks to my story and is quite pretty. (It’s hard to get a sense of the quality and feeling of the piece online–but trust me, it’s very nice.)

I’m still thinking about the first question of the day – “Why did you make your most recent art purchase?” I’ll tell you more about mine in a few weeks when I can show you an image (it’s currently being framed). I’m curious, though, how would you have answered that question had you been in the room?


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Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice

After a week on the East Coast working and visiting our kids I came home with happy memories and a little intestinal bug.  Not big enough to warrant a trip to the doctor–we didn’t bowl in Ebola-exposed lanes while in NYC–but some queasiness lingered for nearly a week.  I looked up my symptoms and learned that I could be suffering from a psychotic illness (always possible) or pregnancy, which at my age would be downright Biblical.  Figuring there was nothing to do but wait it out, I rallied to make my favorite under-the-weather soup.

I can’t remember where I first came across the recipe–the yellowed clipping looks like it might have been in the New York Times Sunday magazine–but it’s called “Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice” and is adapted from The Varied Kitchens of India by Copeland Marks (M. Evans, 1986).  I can tell you that it’s delicious and simple to make and the spices–ginger, garlic, red chile flakes and cumin–add just enough kick to make me feel alive when I’m otherwise dead to the world. As we’re entering flu season, I thought you might want to add this to your medicinal arsenal.

Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice (serves 6)

1 chicken, 3 pounds, cut into serving pieces, loose skin and fat removed*

6 cups water

1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste

3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1 cup onion cut into chunks

1/2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

1/2 cup fresh tomato puree, or canned

Cooked basmati rice

1. Cook the chicken in the water with salt over moderate heat for 20 minutes.

2. In a food processor, puree the onion, ginger and garlic.  Heat oil in a skillet and over moderate heat fry the onion paste for 3 minutes.  Add the cumin and chile flakes.  Stirfry the mixture for 3 minutes more.  Add the spice mixture to the chicken pot with the tomato puree and simmer over moderatley low heat for 20 minutes more.  Adjust the salt if necessary.

3. Serve hot with plain basmati rice added to each bowl.

 *I’ve also used boneless chicken breasts and prepared chicken broth to speed up the cooking time and further reduce the minimal prep mess. All the better to quickly resume my sickbed Scandal-watching.

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Friday Things: The Halloween Edition

In our new modernist home, a few splashes of orange around the house and a skeleton on the front bench suffice for demonic decor.

I’ve been experimenting with deer-resistant plants in the front pots and though several perennials have given up the ghost already the nasturtiums are thriving.  Right now a strand is crawling into Mr. Bones’s mouth and should pop out of his eye socket just in time for our first batch of trick-or-treaters.  Boo-ray!

Here are some other spooky things spied this week:

Halloween Candy Exchange Rate.

5 Historical Haunted Houses to visit.

Eerie interiors.

Eau d’ Halloween.

A spooktacular alphabet.

No surprise, Elsa rules.

Squash Toast with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar.

An oldie but a goodie – teaching kids about the Day of the Dead.

And finally, for those of you who quake and tremble when facing a trip to IKEA – an IKEA Halloween.

Happy Halloween!

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Things Elsewhere: Lenzburg, Switzerland + Jugendfest

As you may recall from my Europe packing post, this summer I traveled to Switzerland and Germany.  For my inaugural “Things Elsewhere” post I thought I’d share some images and impressions of the charming  festival I attended in a small suburb of Zurich. Think Heidi meets The Hunger Games.  The Lenzburg Jugendfest was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  Come see!

The primary purpose of my trip was to see our son Will who was wrapping up a six month internship at Porsche Engineering in Stuttgart (lucky guy!)  In planning the trip I discovered that Lenzburg, Switzerland—my great-great-grandmother’s home and the setting for the first part of the historical novel I’m working on–was only two hours away from Stuttgart.  A side-trip was in order.

I decided to time my visit around the annual Jugendfest (Youth Festival) celebration, hoping to get a sense of the town’s customs and costumes. My D.C.-based sister Michelle offered to join me and we met up in front of the central clock in Zurich’s main train station for the thirty minute ride out to Lenzburg.  Once there we took a short taxi ride over to the Hotel Krone which has been in operation since 1765.  Situated at the base of the hill below the schloss (castle) and a five minute walk from the old town, the location was ideal and the gummy bears on our pillows set the tone for the rest of the sweet and sometimes silly weekend.

From my research, I knew that the 400 year old Jugendfest celebration included a week of activities culminating with a parade of children dressed in white followed by a mock battle fought between teenage cadets and a group described online as “booty lusting irregulars” (?!) before ending in fireworks launched from the ramparts of the castle.  I thought it sounded ein bischen hokey.  But happily, it proved to be absolutely charming.

Michelle and I spent the day before the main events exploring the beautifully preserved schloss and its cheery formal gardens.

That afternoon we toured the town’s numerous fountains that had been decorated with flowers by local townspeople.  Our tour guides wore the city’s cornflower blue and white colors.

While strolling around we saw firemen stringing evergreen boughs and hanging flower bouquets causing some seasonal confusion. The whole town smelled like Christmas in the height of summer! In the main church where we enjoyed a dress rehearsal of the children’s concert (including an impassioned vocal performance of “Let It Go” and a spirited xylophone rendition of “It Don’t Mean A Thing if You Ain’t Got That Swing”) the floral displays were especially wonderful.

Marching bands and drum corps were everywhere.  An English-speaking woman standing near us for the evening band competition told us that though she and her husband had moved away from Lenzburg they try to come back every year for Jugendfest and their children and grandchildren all participate.  The local townspeople were so enthusiastic about every little detail.

Later that night Will drove over  from Stuttgart and the next morning chatted with more drummers outside our hotel before we headed over to the main square to see the children receive a ceremonial coin from the mayor and then parade with their teachers through the old town.

They were followed by the high-spirited teenage cadets wielding guns with flowers peeping out of the barrels and those “booty-lusting irregulars” which turned out to be adults dressed as marauders from around the globe.

The irregulars were decidedly unpolitically correct. But the adults enthusiastically playing these multicultural villains clearly had no problems with ethnic stereotypes.

After they paraded through town we all marched out to the fields to watch the battles that raged across the farmland.

Finally ending up at the local fairgrounds where a substantial replica of Schloss Lenzburg was burned to the ground.

That night we sat on the edge of one of the decorated fountains in front of our hotel and watched the children parade through the streets one more time–this time with beautiful paper lanterns–before fireworks sparkled above the schloss.

As advertized, the Lenzburg Jugendfest was the festiest of festivals! I almost hesitate to share it with you because I don’t want it overrun with visitors but my, oh my, it was magical and definitely worth attending if your travels take you nearby.

If you choose to go, the annual Lenzburg Jugendfest happens the week leading up to the second Friday of July but the maneuvers are only every other year.  Check here for further details and look for programs and other information at the tourist information office which is located right across from the Hotel Krone.   

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Friday Things: The Long Shadows Edition

Reading about the young Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, this link to an earlier film about her life appeared.  Watching it I was struck by her shy smile, the rushing waters where she lived in northern Pakistan and the inescapable violence that surrounded her.  But I was also fascinated by her parents–the never photographed mother and her charismatic father.  Early on in the video her father explains to the filmamker that though Malala wants to become a doctor he wants her to go into politics because he thinks she could effect more change in the world that way.  His statement is chilling knowing what we know now, that little Malala would later be shot in the head by the Taliban but would recover and go on to be an activist for female education eventually becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some time ago I read a study showing that though a mother can do much to direct a girl’s life, a father’s example and expectations have an even bigger impact on his daughter.  Certainly Malala’s did on her as my father’s did on me.  Their shadows stretch out long before us much like the shadows of me and two young parents as we recently watched their children play in the surf.  May the shadows we all cast on our children be ones of encouragement and sound direction. May they provide shelter for them as they navigate troubled waters.

Some other things that caught my attention of late–

Furnishing a “galactic ark.”

Brainy Octopi.

Why short men make better husbands.

Do design pros have an obligation to dress up? 

For the glasses wearers and writers out there, a curmudgeonly but thought-provoking interview with Thornton Wilder.

How to tour a museum using the “slow art” method.

Is your stationary stash up to snuff?

And finally, Annie Lenox puts her own spin on a classic.

Happy Weekend All!

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Touring the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with Designer Michelle Wempe

Do you live near a landmark attraction that you’ve never explored?  The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco has been one of those places for me. Frankly, I’ve never felt the need to drive into the city to shop for produce since I have a wealth of farm-fresh options right here in the East Bay. I subscribe to a weekly CSA box, frequently shop at Berkeley Bowl and can drop in on other area farmers markets nearly every day of the week. But I’ve always been curious about the highly touted market outside the Ferry Building. So I was thrilled to have Oakland-based interior designer Michelle Wempe, a terrific cook and farmers market enthusiast, offer to tour me around some of her favorite vendors there.

“Cooking is just another avenue to design,” said Michelle as we talked about the intersection of her work and play.  “It’s about melding a lot of different flavors just as we combine colors and textiles and furnishings in a residential design.” She assured me that the vendors at this market were the best of the bunch and that even if it meant getting up early on a Saturday morning and driving into the city, I wouldn’t be disappointed.  She was right.  Come see what I saw.

Michelle and her partner Harris arrive early to meet friends for coffee and do their shopping before the crowds show up around 9:00.  The Market is held outside the Ferry Building on the San Francisco Embarcadero and waterfront sides of the building which is part of its appeal.  I mean look at this view.

And check out the well-fed regulars.

Inside the Ferry Building you’ll find upscale food vendors like Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery along with housewares purveyors like Sur La Table and The Gardener.  Outside, September’s bounty includes some of my favorite fruits – plums and pomegranates.

The last of the corn and tomatoes.

And the beginning of the winter squashes. Such a cheery sight as the days grow shorter.

It also brings a new crop of heirloom apples.  Here are some of the varieties sold by Stan DeVoto of DeVoto Farms. Part of the fun of touring with Michelle was having her introduce me to the farmers.

After all,  I grew up on a potato farm in southeastern Idaho and know how much farmers like my dad and brother care about their crops and love to talk about them.  I just wish my dad was still alive to see all the varieties of potatoes available today.

We were hosting friends for dinner and though I had my main course in place I asked Michelle for some ideas for easy produce-inspired appetizers. “I usually opt for something simple like seasonal fruit and cheese or some sautéed peppers,” she said, leading me over to Happy Quail Farms where she introduced me to owner David Winsberg in his pepper-printed shirt.

He showed me some gorgeous Piment d’Anglet—long red peppers also known as Basque fryers that are cousins to the Jimmy Nardellos sitting at home on my countertop.  They would make an excellent side dish for a main course sometime, but for an appetizer both Winsberg and Michelle agreed that the Padron peppers sauteed until they were subtly charred and then finished off with a good salt would be a good bet. “They’re mostly sweet though every tenth pepper can be as hot as a cayenne, which is part of the fun,” said Winsberg.  Ok, so Russian roulette pepper appetizers it would be.

Then Michelle helped me pick the perfect figs at Knoll Farms as a second starter.

Fun fact—Michelle and Harris actually met at the Farmers Market when he was helping Rick Knoll out on busy Saturdays.  “Harris waited on me every week which eventually led to a dinner invitation with some other market friends, and the rest, as they say is history.”

Along with all the beautiful produce and fresh flower vendors, there are a fair number of prepared food purveyors.   Bottled products like jams or pepper sauces would be great for gifts as the holiday approaches.

There are also a number of bakers selling bread and pastries.  I picked up a few pie slices from Three Babes Bakeshop to take home to M.J.before heading into the Ferry Building to grab some pain epi from Acme to serve with dinner.

Laden with my bags of treasures (Michelle says she often brings a little rolling cart if she’s doing serious shopping) I made my way to my car in the small Ferry Building Parking Lot across the street.  Alas, I didn’t realize I needed to have my ticket validated by a vendor and almost paid a hefty sum for parking.  Fortunately, the toll taker gave me the benefit of the doubt —“this time only”—when he saw all my bags of produce.

So, if you live in the Bay Area or are visiting here on a weekend and want to make the most of the celebrated Ferry Plaza Farmers Market remember to get your parking ticket validated and follow designer Michelle Wempe’s top three tips for navigating the market:

1. Come early. The market officially opens at 8:00 but you can often start shopping at 7:30.  That’s also the best time to spot the professional chefs doing their shopping.

2. Be Flexible. This isn’t a supermarket that will have everything available in all seasons. Some people love the summer market best, but there are always interesting and tasty options here. Let the market inspire you.

3. Get to know the farmers.  They know their produce better than anyone and can educate you about how best to use what you see at the market.

Thanks for a terrific tour, Michelle. I loved seeing the bounty laid out on my kitchen counter.

And that night the figs and roasted peppers were outstanding.

It really was worth the drive. Can’t wait to go back!


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Friday Things: The New Sink Edition

No wallpaper decision made yet, but the new sink is in!  Isn’t she a beauty?  Perhaps you recall this moment of impulse renovation when we ripped out the old odd powder room vanity with no plan for what would take it’s place?

Four months later we have new things in the room including floor tile (Ann Sacks), a beefy wall mounted sink (Sonia) with a sleek new faucet (Gessi) and a glamorous P-trap (Kohler.)  Feeling fancy.

Other final projects completed over the last few weeks — foam roof recoated, new doors installed and hung, sheetrock and mud work in various areas finished and outdoor trellises removed.  A little stucco repair and we’ll be ready for the return of the painters.  And then we’ll rest from our labors for awhile.

Speaking of rest, we’re off to the Monterey Peninsula for the weekend.  Should be a lovely break from work and work projects.  Hope you’re finding some R&R, preferably near the water, as well.

Happy Weekend All!

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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